Nordic police break up refugee smuggling ring

Swedish and Finnish police have together smashed a network believed to be responsible for smuggling more than a hundred refugees, mainly Iraqi nationals, across the border.

Nordic police break up refugee smuggling ring
The border between Sweden and Finland. Photo: Robert Nyholm/TT

Police from the two neighbouring countries arrested six people in Eskilstuna in central Sweden, and nine in Finland at the end of September, in a series of raids that only hit Nordic headlines on Thursday.

“It was quite a big operation. We had just over 60 police officers working simultaneously from the two countries,” Jukka Tekokoski, who led the investigation in Finland, told The Local.

The smuggling ring, which is based in Sweden and Finland, is thought to have brought least 100 people from Turkey to Finland via Sweden this year. Police believe they crossed the border by land along the northern Haparanda to Torneå route, by sea on ferries to Helsinki and Åbo and on flights to Helsinki-Vanda airport.

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Finnish authorities have requested that those arrested in Sweden be extradited to Finland for the ongoing investigation and potential prosecution. Tekokoski said his officers were focusing their attention on those responsible for the smuggling.

“Most of the people being smuggled have applied for asylum and are living in Finland. We are not focusing on them, we're focusing on the people organizing this and making money from it,” he said.

“This case is quite exceptional because of the number of people being smuggled. (…) But I am quite convinced that it affects the situation when we sweep out an organization like this,” he added.

Asylum seekers not related to this story in Finland. Photo: Panu Pohjola/Lehtikuva via AP

As The Local reported last month, Finland has been tightening controls at its northern border to Sweden in an effort to control the flow of refugees that come to the country.

While many refugees are believed to be travelling to the Nordic countries by legal means, an increasing number are thought to be the victims of human smuggling rings, charging thousands of euros for helping refugees travel into and through Europe.

“It costs €10,000 for each person, but it varies a lot. A lot of people have already entered the EU and Schengen by other means and only meet the smugglers in for example Hungary,” said Tekokoski.

READ ALSO: Do human traffickers go unpunished in Sweden?

In a report in May this year, Swedish police revealed that around 40 criminal networks were believed to be involved in people smuggling in Sweden, but officials say it is often difficult to prosecute the suspects.

“These are very complex stories where nobody wants to cooperate with us. When the smugglers have already reached Sweden it is very hard to prove that a crime has been committed,” Lars Öjelind, head of intelligence at the Swedish police's operative department, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the time.